Florida Small Estate Probate: Does Your Estate Qualify for Summary Administration?

When someone dies, their estate may have to go through the probate process. Probate is a court-supervised legal process that involves settling a deceased person’s estate and distributing the assets to their heirs. 

Formal probate administration can be a long and complex process. But not all estates need a formal probate administration. Some small estates can take advantage of a simplified procedure called summary administration. Summary administration is a faster, less expensive, and easier way of handling probate in Florida.

How do you know if your estate qualifies for summary administration in Florida? What are the pros and cons of this option? And how do you file for summary administration?

In this blog post, our experts at Farshchian Law will answer these questions and give you some helpful information on summary administration in Florida. Whether you are planning your own estate or dealing with a loved one’s estate, this will help you understand your options and make a smart decision.

What is Small Estate Probate and How Does it Differ from Regular Probate in Florida?

Florida has two types of probate: formal administration and summary administration. Formal administration is the standard probate process. Summary administration is the simplified probate process.

Formal administration requires a personal representative to be appointed. This is a person who manages the estate, pays the debts, files the taxes, and distributes the assets. Formal probate administration involves a lot of paperwork, court hearings, and legal fees. It can take from six months to two years or more.

Summary administration does not require that a personal representative be appointed. The heirs or beneficiaries file a Petition for Summary Administration with the court. They ask the court to distribute the assets according to the deceased Last Will & Testament or according to Florida law (if the deceased did not leave a Will). Summary administration involves less paperwork, fewer court hearings, and lower legal fees. It can be done in the span of a few weeks to a couple of months.

Summary administration is not for every estate. It is only for small estates that meet certain criteria. We will discuss these criteria in the next section.

The Requirements for Summary Administration in Florida

To take advantage of summary administration in Florida, the estate must meet one of these two criteria:

  • The estate is worth less than $75,000, excluding exempt property. Exempt property includes homestead and certain allowances. This is the asset value limit for summary administration in Florida.
  • The person died more than two years ago. This means the estate has no creditor claims to resolve, as the two-year unsecured creditors’ claims period has already expired.

The probate estate must also meet these requirements:

  • If the deceased passed away less than two years ago, the estate must pay or settle all the valid creditor claims against it. Or the creditors must waive their rights to formal administration and accept the distribution of the assets under summary administration.
  • The person who has the priority right to file the probate petition agrees to file for a summary administration. This person is often the surviving spouse or the person named as the personal representative in the deceased’s Will. They must request the distribution of the assets according to the deceased’s Will or according to Florida law (if the deceased did not leave a will).
  • The estate is not in a Will contest. No one has challenged the Will, the personal representative, or any other matter related to the probate of the estate.

If the estate meets these requirements, it may qualify for summary administration in Florida. But summary administration is not mandatory. The heirs or beneficiaries may choose formal administration instead, for example if they want a personal representative appointed to file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate or manage creditor claims.

Detailed Steps for Filing for Summary Administration in Florida

To file for summary administration in Florida, you need to:

  • File a petition for administration with the court. The Petition for Summary Administration asks the court to distribute the assets of the estate. It must include the information about the person who died, the beneficiaries, the assets, the creditors, and the request for summary administration. If the deceased left homestead property that needs to be probated, a Petition for Homestead Determination should also be filed at the same time.
  • Pay the court filing fees. The fees are for the court to accept the petition for administration and open the probate estate. They are typically lower than the fees for regular probate, and often do not exceed $400.00.
  • Publish a notice in a newspaper. The notice tells the public that you have filed a petition for summary administration. Anyone who has a claim or an interest in the estate can object to the petition within 90 days. A publication notice is not required for all summary administrations. 
  • File the death certificate and required affidavits. Many counties in Florida require that the original death certificate be filed by the court. Depending on the background facts of the estate, there are also affidavits that may be required to be filed, such as an Affidavit of Heirs, and Affidavit of Homestead, and an Affidavit of No Criminal History.
  • File the deceased’s Last Will & Testament. The probate court requires that the original be filed if the deceased did in fact leave a Will. If not, the estate can proceed intestate.
  • Submit the proposed court order. The Order of Summary Administration is the document that approves the petition and allows the distribution of the assets. It must include information about the person who died, the heirs of the estate, the assets, and manner of distribution.
  • Distribute the assets. Distribution is the final step of the process. It involves transferring the assets to the heirs according to the court order. It may require recording the court order, paying taxes or debts, and delivering or depositing the assets.

These are the basic steps of filing for summary administration in Florida. But there may be more steps or complications, depending on the case. For example, you may need to obtain an Oath of Witness if you cannot locate the deceased’s original Will.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Summary Administration

Summary administration has some advantages and disadvantages over a formal probate administration. You should consider them before you choose this option.

Some of the advantages are:

  • It is faster. You can finish a summary administration in as little as a few weeks, though it may sometimes take a few months.
  • It is less costly. You pay less fees and costs for summary administration than for regular probate.
  • It is often easier. There are less pleadings and filings involved for a summary administration than for a formal probate administration.
  • It involves less disputes. A summary administration is typically used when there are no Will or heir disputes involved. 

Some of the disadvantages are:

  • It is risky. You have less court supervision and protection with summary administration than with a standard formal probate. Therefore, an experienced Florida probate attorney should be hired to mitigate the risks.
  • It may involve more liability. You have more responsibility and liability for the debts and taxes of the estate with summary administration than with a formal probate.
  • It is error prone. You have more chances of fraud or error in the distribution of the assets with summary administration than with regular probate. This is again why an experienced Florida probate attorney should be hired to assist with the process.

How to Probate a Small Estate in Florida Quickly and Affordably

Summary administration can save you time, money, and hassle, but it also has some limitations and risks. If an estate qualifies for summary administration, it is important that all procedural and legal steps are carefully followed so that the deceased’s estate can be managed in an expeditious and efficient matter.

If you need help with probate in Florida, contact Farshchian Law PA today or call us at (800) 604-1871. We are experienced in handling small estate probate cases, and we can guide you through the process to avoid pitfalls. We handle probate, real estate, and estate planning matters throughout the State of Florida.